Applied Conflict Transformation Studies
Building a pool of reflexive practitioners.
I. Rationale: bridging the academic-practitioner divide
An attempt to bridge the gap between academic programmes and practitioners’ needs has been made by the development of Applied Conflict Transformation Studies (ACTS), a programme initiated by UK-based Responding to Conflict (RTC). ACTS is a two-year part-time Masters course in conflict transformation, structured around six modules:
Theories of conflict;
Conflict, power and change;
Transforming violent conflict;
Building sustainable peace;
Building theory from practice;
Agents for transformation.
Each consisting of a residential seminar and on-the-job study. It is currently offered in Asia (based in Cambodia), and Balkans and Middle East (based in Serbia).
II. Methodology: action learning and research
At the core of ACTS methodology is action research, combined with the study and testing of conflict theories and the practice of conflict-handling skills. Action research methodology involves repeated cycles of action, reflection and planning with a focus on three levels: the self, or action-researcher, the interactive face-to-face context, and the wider community or society. Action research requires students to start with their own practice, recognising that by being part of an intervention, they will affect the outcome of a situation. It is an approach which encourages developing awareness of one’s motivations and values, as well as awareness of others and their perspectives. By reflecting systematically on their work, students gradually develop their own practice and skills. What is their role in working for social and political change? How can they become more effective agents of change and leaders in their organisations and communities?
While action research has a strong focus on the individual, it also requires students to look closely at the work they are doing. When are their programmes successful and why? In what ways do they need to improve? What can their colleagues and organisations learn from their research? And beyond that: what would their research mean for the wider field of conflict transformation? At its best, ACTS enables practitioners to write about their work and practice, challenging and contributing to the field of conflict transformation from the perspective of first hand involvement.
III. Structure: global yet local
ACTS core curriculum is shaped to suit the needs of the particular context; teaching teams are centrally accredited, and are made up of tutors from the region where the course is held and international tutors who bring a wider perspective.
ACTS is the first, and so far the only university-based conflict transformation course to be centred on action research. It inevitably faces questions about its legitimacy and quality. However the output of the first group of students who graduated in 2007 suggests that action learning can indeed become a more widely recognised mode of education within the field. Yet as ACTS develops, its team keeps asking itself to what extent their overall goal of building a critical mass of reflexive practitioners in strategic areas risks being lost in the process of establishing such global programme.